Cutting Losses: Initiatives to bring down NRW levels

Initiatives to bring down NRW levels

High levels of non-revenue water (NRW) coupled with ageing pipelines and tampered or damaged meters have become a key concern for urban local bodies (ULBs). These factors result in a mismatch between water supply and consumption levels, thereby resulting in high NRW levels.

In India, the NRW level is about 40-45 per cent (on an average) as compared to 21 per cent in China. Most of the key towns in India have NRW levels in the range of 30-50 per cent. As a re­sult, water utilities in India face huge revenue losses and financial constraints in taking up infrastructure improvement works. The root causes of high levels of NRW are low investment in consumer and flowmeters, low prevalence of water audits, leakages and illegal connections, absence of hydraulic modelling, etc.

Management of water supply services has become a daunting task for many ULBs, as a result of which they have started taking the re­quisite steps to ensure proper water network management.

A gamut of initiatives

In view of the high NRW levels, many city corporations have started taking up projects to im­p­ro­ve water supply and repair worn-out pipeline infrastructure in their areas. In 2012, the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) awarded the contract for distribution and revenue collection in three areas (Malaviya Nagar, Vasant Vihar and Nangloi) to private contractors. As a result of this initiative, the NRW level in Malaviya Nagar reduced from 45 per cent to 30 per cent. DJB has divided the entire city into 1,010 district metered areas (DMAs) to reduce NRW level. Work on 160 DMAs has already been awarded. Besides, con­sultancy works for around 598 DMAs have been awarded. Overall, the board aims to bring down the NRW level from the current level of 45 per cent to 10-15 per cent.

The Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) has also identified the steps to be taken to reduce the NRW levels in the city. Accordingly, about 275,000 meters will be installed over a three-year period which will help curb the existing NRW level. PMC is also executing a 24×7 water supply project in the city involving replacement of 1,800 km of old pipelines. The corporation has divided the city into 328 DMAs for checking water distribution. As a result, PMC has managed to save about 100 million litres of treated water by laying a pipeline from Parvati Water Works to Cantonment Water Works.

In order to detect the sources of NRW, the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) undertook an extensive study on a roughly 150 square km area with 500,000 connections in 2013. The study showed that 8-9 per cent of NRW in the area was due to leakages from old pipes. Leakages from old reservoirs and faulty/old meters with a slow reading process were other reasons for high NRW levels. To plug these problems, BWSSB, by until June 2020, installed 1,200 DMA meters and 8,000 automatic meter reading (AMR) meters for apartment and bulk connections. Other initiatives undertaken by BWSSB include the use of helium gas leakage technology, bid data analytics and a predictive analysis dashboard, wa­ter audits by installing bulk flowme­te­rs, sensors for detecting leakages, and a 24×7 bill payment facility through BWSSB.

Many other city corporations and water boards have planned a plethora of initiatives to re­duce NRW levels in their cities and set an examples for smaller towns and cities. The Hy­dera­bad Metropolitan Water Supply and Sew­erage Board (HMWSSB) plans on reducing the overall NRW levels in the city to 10 per cent. The board also aims to ensure 100 per cent metering, geotag every household and send SMS alerts for providing water supply information. Other plans of HMWSSB include awarding the management, operations and maintenance contract of water treatment plants to private contractors; undertaking phase-wise installation of AMR, radio frequency identification and a global system for mobile communication meters; mapping the entire pipeline network and dividing it into hydraulic zones; and mapping revenue generation docket-wise and matching supply dockets with revenue dockets.

Treading on the same lines, the Kerala Water Authority (KWA) has adopted the Sahara Drag Chute and SmartBall leak detection technologies for easier and more effective detection of leakages. KWA uses SmartBall technology to detect leakages in the water network. Mean­while, the water authority is undertaking audits through its NRW Management Cell and has also installed bulk water meters.

The way forward

High levels of NRW are detrimental to the financial viability of water utilities and to the quality of water itself. Hence, adequate measures are needed to reduce water losses. While the experience with regard to the implementation of 24×7 water supply projects, deployment of wa­ter management technologies and adoption of advanced metering techniques has been quite encouraging, there is a need to increase the uptake of such initiatives. In this respect, en­suring timely completion of projects remains a key concern.